Let’s be honest: You are probably rooting for Team USA to take home the gold at the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship. The American team threatened a boycott of the tournament over gender-based inequality in USA Hockey’s support and payment structure. Putting their careers in jeopardy for the sake of future generations of female athletes, the women finally struck a deal this week while the hockey community held its collective breath. The original team will be present in Plymouth, Michigan to defend their World Championship title. Who wouldn’t want them to take home the gold medal as the crowning achievement of their historic fight?
Enter: Team Canada
The country that hasn’t lost an Olympic gold-medal game since 1998 is somehow always the underdog at the IIHF World Championship, having last won gold in 2012. Add that to the massive public rally behind Team USA, and the Canadians have their work cut out for them.
Preparation will be key. While Team USA was fighting their battle with USA Hockey, Team Canada was practicing and scrimmaging. Though the American team is strong, it’s difficult to predict how the last-minute deal will affect their game-readiness. Canada has been practicing together since mid-March and will be poised to exploit any weakness Team USA may show.
Szabados Goes for Two
Shannon Szabados is hoping to earn the starting goaltender spot in the upcoming Olympics, seeking her third gold medal. To earn that position she will have to do everything she can to earn her second IIHF gold. Szabados was between the pipes the previous time Canada won the World Championship when she had 40 saves in Canada's 5-4 OT thriller against the USA in 2012.
This will be her first WWC since 2013, as Szabados has been focused on her career playing men's hockey in the Southern Professional Hockey League and the Chinook Hockey League. If you are unfamiliar with that story, you have some extra reading to do before the tournament begins.
If you think you’re excited to see Shannon Szabados wearing the maple leaf again, she is probably more excited than you are. Take a look at the brand new pads she had made for the occasion.
Ready to take on the World! pic.twitter.com/r3hpPcuWiq— Shannon Szabados (@ShannonSzabados) March 27, 2017
In case Szabados wasn’t enough talent between the pipes, Emerance Maschmeyer is returned to her third World Championship after shining last year in Kamloops. Maschmeyer is also gunning hard for a starting spot in the Olympics, so this tournament may shed some light on who the frontrunner is going into centralization.
The third goalie is the 2013 CWHL Most Outstanding Goaltender Award Geneviève Lacasse. Hockey Canada has such depth in goaltending that Ann-Renée Desbiens, the 2017 Patty Kazmaier Award winner and NCAA shutout record holder, was left off the roster.
Keys to Success
Besides the best goaltending in the world, Canada’s roster comes packed with dynamic scorers and solid defenders. You’ll notice a few familiar faces are missing from the blue line though. Gone are veterans Tara Watchorn and Brigette Lacquette, and in are rookies Erin Ambrose and Renata Fast. The Toronto Furies teammates also played together at Clarkson, where they helped the Golden Knights win the NCAA National Championship in 2014. It’s difficult to say if this is a permanent replacement or if the newcomers are just being given an extra test before centralization, but they will be interesting players to keep your eye on.
Canada begins their tournament by facing rival USA in pool play Friday. Barring a major upset, Canada will likely face the USA again in the gold-medal game. It will be important for the Canadian women to track the progress of Team USA throughout the tournament. The USA has not had time to practice together and will certainly evolve into a much more cohesive unit between their first and second matches with Canada. As previous tournaments have shown, the results of pool play are not always an indication of how the final will go.
Canada is familiar to playing the spoiler on US soil. In fact, Canada has never lost a Women’s World Championship in the US, earning gold in Lake Placid (1994), Minneapolis (2001), and Burlington (2012). After everything Team USA has already accomplished, you can bet they will be more hungry than ever to bring home the gold in Plymouth. A Canadian win would be the ultimate upset. With their newly invigorated defense, potent scoring lead by captain Marie-Philip Poulin, and three brick walls in net, Canada is certainly not letting the USA complete their celebration without a fight.